Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winds of Change Offer Some Hope for Schools

Scott Stephens | The Forum for Education and Democracy Blog
November 15, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – This month's election and the resulting power shift in Congress and state capitols across the nation could create new coalitions around education.

"There are a lot of new bedfellows,” Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond told participants in the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum last week. “There is weakening support for No Child Left Behind by Republicans and Democrats alike, and more movement by civil rights organizations around equity. A lot of these coalitions are waiting to be built.”

Darling-Hammond, a Convener with The Forum for Education and Democracy, said the likely chairman of the House Education and Labor committee will be John Kline, a Republican lawmaker from Minnesota.

Kline favors full-funding for special education, a move that would help the entire public education system if it happens, Darling-Hammond noted. Kline is also skeptical about the Obama administration's Race to the Top and innovation grants programs. She said the philosophy could result in less influence from Washington on education policy.

"I don't think it's an entirely bleak landscape at a federal level,” she said. “There might be a little more room for the ideas we have.”

Darling-Hammond, along with Forum Conveners Pedro Noguera and Deborah Meier, warned that equity continues to be growing problem in public education. The gap between America's richest and poorest citizens has unraveled many of the gains made in the 1960s and 1970s by former President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program.

"It undermines everything that we do," Noguera said.

He said the movement to apply the business model to solve real or imagined problems in education won't work.

“I'm not willing to give up on public education,” said Noguera, a New York University professor. “I know of no public good that is addressed effectively through the market system.

Meier, a teacher and author, agreed. She said the recent performance of big banks and giant corporations hardly makes them ideal candidates to overhaul schools. “It's time for the teachers of America to take over the business world,” she said. “We do a better job.” Meier noted that while No Child Left Behind required 100 percent proficiency for all children in reading and math by 2014, no such regulation applies to other equity issues.

Why isn't there a law that says the gap between the highest and lowest earners in the state has to be closed in the next 10 years?” she asked. “We are not going to create equal schools if society is unequal in every other respect.”

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